COULD your employer insist you take a pay cut if you want to continue working from home?

It might seem surprising, since you would not be taking up office space or using the employer’s heating and light, and may even be more productive.

But one London law firm, Stephenson Harwood, has told staff they will lose a fifth of their salary if they want to work remotely.

Meanwhile, Cabinet Office minister Jacob Rees-Mogg has been criticised for leaving notes saying “I look forward to seeing you in the office soon” on the desks of staff who are not there to read them.

Warren Munson, founder of the Poole-based entrepreneurial community Evolve, said: “Although I support the flexibility that hybrid working offers, I cannot see a time when the office itself is redundant. It’s so important for creating values and developing a culture at work, to have the team together in the same space, at least for part of the week.”

But he added: “Forcing people to take a pay cut to permanently work remotely, is only going to create a toxic ‘them and us’ culture, which I cannot see helping any business or its customers – regardless of sector or industry.

“At our co-working space in Ashley Cross, we’re seeing a trend of true hybrid working – people are choosing to work from the office for perhaps one day, at home for two days, and then from the co-working space for a couple of days. It’s not just a matter of working either from home or from the office. Instead, people are opting for the co-working space as a third option.”

Tom Doherty, managing director of human resources consultancy the HR Dept in east Dorset and the New Forest, said: “For whatever reason, this particular firm is keen to make a distinction in its professional workforce from those who work in an office environment to those who want to be full home working based, on the factor of their pay – always a very emotive subject.

“The approach of saying 20 per cent less pay for working at home seems more like an attempt at a carrot and stick approach to motivate people to return to the office, which ultimately could create a two-tier workforce and is likely I think to backfire in its approach.”

He said discussions between staff and employers were likely to yield better working relationships than pay cuts.

Amy Cousineau Massey, consultant employment solicitor at Woodstock Legal Services, said: “Unfortunately for this firm I think there is a real risk that they could face claims of indirect discrimination. Indirect discrimination is where a rule is applied equally to everyone but has a negative impact on a group of people who share a common, and protected, characteristic.

“In this instance, the rule of paying less to employees who are permanently working from home could have a detrimental impact on women or employees with disabilities.

“As this particular employment package has been offered by a law firm they have no doubt thought of this significant risk and deemed it a risk worth taking. They may argue that any indirect discrimination is proportionate and can be justified as legitimate. However, only an employment tribunal will be able to confirm this absolutely.

“In my opinion this type of employment package speaks to the desperation of the traditional law firm in trying to hold onto outdated working concepts and structures that do not fit most modern lawyers.”

Kate Brooks, partner and employment solicitor at Ellis Jones in Bournemouth, said of the London firm. “It is a choice, therefore there is no risk of breach of contract or constructive dismissal. It is however sometimes risky to roll out policies to groups of workers.

"If an employer applies a practice, criteria or provision to a group of employees and a group that share a protected characteristics e.g. a disability are put at a disadvantage, in some cases it could amount to indirect discrimination.

“There is also a question over morale. This option may boost morale as the minority who want to work solely from home are happy. It could cause problems with anyone in the office all the time, as they may feel they should have been paid 20 per cent more while in the office.”